PRODUCTIVITY AND EMPLOYEE MANAGEMENT THROUGH THE LENS OF BUSINESS PSYCHOLOGY AND THE LAW
Updated: Jun 28, 2021
May 6, 2021
Happy employees mean a happy business. In a study analyzing job satisfaction and productivity, it was found that organizations with more satisfied employees tended to be more productive than organizations with less satisfied employees.1 Why is this important for your business? Failure to address these issues can lead to decreased productivity, increased employee turnover, and absenteeism, which can create more serious consequences, such as profit loss and legal liability. In this article, we discuss how you can improve employee morale by using the psychology of job satisfaction and perception.2
Job satisfaction describes how fulfilled a person feels by his or her work, which is usually associated with how well personal expectations are in line with the workplace dynamic.3 To better understand job satisfaction, we must understand its sub-parts.
Values play a role in how we conduct ourselves and can drive us to act in specific ways. 4 Values are influenced by cultural norms as well as peer-group norms. Motivation affects values, causing us to strive for a particular value. In this way, job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) can be dependent on values.
For example, an employee that holds the values of achievement and material success may work hard at a company that provides rewards such as recognition and financial incentives. Meanwhile, if an employee values a performance-related pay model but works for a company that prioritizes seniority pay determination, the employee may feel dissatisfied, reducing job satisfaction.5 Additionally, if an employee holds values such as teamwork and leadership, an environment that provides incentives for expressing those values will encourage the employee to do so and work hard.
As an employer, being aware of individual employee values and positively utilizing them can benefit business productivity.
Personality and Emotions
Personality can affect whether a person is the right “fit” for a business, and an employee who is not the right “fit” may end up feeling dissatisfied in the long term. Taking time to better understand your employees’ personality and traits (in addition to values) may seem like standard practice, but it is often overlooked after the initial employee interview. Moreover, individuals tend to paint themselves in a light best suited to the employer during the hiring process, skewing the employer’s perception. Therefore, it is important to periodically assess employee personality. Doing so can help figure out if an employee’s personality is affecting productivity, and if so, whether to change the job of the employee, discuss with the employee ways to make the job more enjoyable, or let the employee go (depending on the terms of employment).
As a personal example, a client of the firm had trouble with one of its managers and was unsure what to do. The manager was hard working and efficient but had trouble with customer relations and employee morale. The client owned multiple storefronts for its business and each storefront had its own unique chemistry and demographic. By using the suggested approach of assessing job satisfaction and personality, the client was able to solve the problem by moving the manager to a different storefront more in line with the manager’s personality. Afterward, the manager had a better relationship with customers and fellow employees, resulting in improved productivity.
In addition to personality, emotions play a key role in job satisfaction despite being frequently overlooked.6 Work, like any other environment, both produces and is influenced by emotions. Practicing emotional awareness can lead to benefitting both the employer and employee. Consider the following scenario:
“Jane is asked to undertake a difficult project, usually carried out by more experienced colleagues. She feels valued, flattered, and trusted, although she is worried by the assignment. While working hard on the project, her emotions range from excitement and elation to fear and frustration. But she completes the task and feels proud and relieved. She informs her boss of her achievement and shows her the completed work. The reaction of the boss is to point out a trivial error, and she gives no thanks or praise. The result is that Jane feels resentful and thinks that she will never again make a special effort. She also feels exploited and is giving serious thought to seeking another job. In the meantime, she does not volunteer to undertake any additional tasks, revises her resume, and frequently studies job advertisements.”7
The above scenario illustrates how influential emotions can be on job satisfaction. Had Jane’s boss offered both the critique as well as positive recognition of Jane’s work, Jane may not have become resentful or uninterested in offering future assistance. In some cases, it is not possible to placate employee emotions, but it is important for the sake of productivity to at least consider them when making employee-related decisions or communications.
In addition to the above sub-topics, the following list of factors can impact job satisfaction:
1. The value of the job performed and the ability to receive promotion based on a system of either seniority or merit,
2. the job itself and how it can be made more enjoyable and rewarding without reducing productivity, and
3. the business’ leadership structure and how employees are affected, such as participative leadership and leadership that empowers its followers,
Giving attention to these details can improve job satisfaction and provide a better understanding of workplace dynamics, thus having more tools to increase productivity.
Productivity and Perception
Workplace conditions can affect job satisfaction and productivity as well. On a basic level, we respond to the environment through our senses. Consider the following on sense stimulation relevant to the workplace:
Vision is feasibly our most often-used sense, and it is suggested that we obtain a majority of information about the world through sight.8 Moreover, we can become visually fatigued from over-stimulation or bored from a failure to provide stimulation. For example, a wiring operator may have to manipulate a small colored cable, while also attending to a nearby color-coded diagram. After time, the operator may start confusing the colors of the cables and on the diagram, actually mistaking one color for another resulting in errors.9
Additionally, productivity can be affected by lighting. When creating an optimal light level for the workplace, it is important to consider the nature of the tasks being performed, as well as individual differences in eyesight, to create a suitable environment.
When considering visual stimuli, color choice also plays a role. Color usage in the workplace can help create an atmosphere conducive to productivity. For example, if employees are engaged in repetitive or monotonous tasks, fresh and vibrant colors can provide needed stimulation, while calm and light colors should be used for workplaces requiring rigorous mental concentration to reduce distraction and fatigue.
Too much noise can hinder productivity. Although we can adapt to continuous loud noises, such as in certain factories and at parties, distracting noises eventually pose a psychological strain, leading to irritability and annoyance. Distraction causes errors. Noise can be reduced by certain methods of noise absorption, such as placing padding around noisy machinery, using sound absorbing wall and floor materials, arranging equipment in an appropriate way, and creating screens to reduce the level of reflected sound.10
It has been proven that fragrance can enhance alertness and increase performance on certain cognitive tasks.11 A study from the Journal of Applied Psychology examined whether the use of a pleasant ambient fragrance could combat drowsy driving. Participants in the study took part in a simulated driving task, with one group exposed to a consistent pleasant fragrance during the simulation and the other group without. The results showed that task performance was significantly enhanced by the presence of a pleasant ambient fragrance, suggesting that the use of fragrance may be an effective way to improve alertness.12 At the very least, reducing unpleasant smells in the workplace with proper ventilation methods could help as well.
Interpretation of Stimuli
Once we recognize a stimulus through our senses, such as colors, sounds, or even people, the stimulus is then filtered through our mind, organized, and interpreted through thoughts and feelings based on our past experiences.13 The interpretation of external stimuli can also be altered by purposeful actions.
Say a guest speaker is brought in to provide an educational presentation for employees. The employees’ perception of the guest speaker can be influenced by how the employer describes the guest speaker before he or she even arrives. If the employer gives a glowing review of the guest speaker, it is more likely that the employees will be receptive to the speaker. Meanwhile, if the employee communicates negatively about the speaker, the speaker may be received poorly.14
Thus, based on the elements of job satisfaction and response to stimuli, there is benefit in addressing productivity not just by income reports, but also by positively influencing employee perception, addressing factors that can impact job satisfaction, and providing a pleasant work environment.
There is a direct correlation between dissatisfied and/or fatigued employees and consequences such as reduced productivity and errors.15 Below is a list of situations and how a business may be negatively impacted by these issues:
An employee fails to proofread a contract before sending it out due to fatigue and understates a price.
- The seller may suffer a loss on the sale as the law will likely not recognize a remedy for failure to proofread.
A hard-working employee that has a “short fuse” is placed in customer sales and frequently loses his temper.
- The employee may cost the company significant profit loss as well as create possible assault/battery risks.
A frustrated employee who already responded to a cleanup request fails to respond to a second request because she values teamwork and the other employees are not helping.
- A classic “slip and fall” scenario or other hazards left unattended to that risk customer safety can create personal injury liability
Although these situations can occur despite job satisfaction based on independent incidents, job dissatisfaction and fatigue can increase such risks, resulting in profit loss and potential legal liability based on the concept of respondeat superior. Respondeat superior is “a legal doctrine, most commonly used in tort, that holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency.
Typically, when respondeat superior is invoked, a plaintiff will look to hold both the employer and the employee liable.”17 Consider the following cases.
McRae v. Commonwealth Disposals Commission
A seller sold an oil tanker that was notated being in an area called “Jourmand Reef.” The buyer later found out that the tanker did not exist and there was also no city named Jourmand Reef. The buyer sued the seller for damages and costs incurred as a result. Damages were awarded. Had the seller (or seller’s employees) carefully reviewed the contract and double-checked whether the item to be sold even existed before offering the final draft, the situation may have been avoided.
A truck driver, Holly Averyt, slipped on a grease pool in a designated delivery zone while making a delivery to a Wal-Mart store. As a result of the accident, Averyt suffered multiple injuries making it impossible for her to return to her job. Averyt filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart for negligence and premises liability. Averyt was awarded $15 million in damages. Had an employee acted diligently to clean the grease pool, or at the very least blocked off the area, the incident might not have occurred.
These cases show why it is important to consider not only proper employee training, but also job satisfaction and workplace conditions to prevent heightened legal exposure and profit loss. By utilizing business psychology in addition to other more common principles, you can both improve employee morale and potentially reduce financial and legal harm to your business.
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 Ostroff, C. The relationship between satisfaction, attitudes, and performance: An organizational level analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology (1992). Dec., 963–974.
 Please note that any psychology-related information in this article is a cursory writing in relation to employee productivity based on peer-reviewed published materials and academic texts. This is not intended to be an official guide or representation by a licensed practitioner in the field of psychology.
 McKenna, Eugene. Business Psychology and Organizational Behaviour (p. 406). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
 Id. at 372.
 Briner, R. Emotion at work: Feeling and smiling (1999a). The Psychologist, Jan., 16–19.
 McKenna, Eugene. Business Psychology and Organizational Behaviour (p. 206). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
 Id. at 207.
 Id. citing Baron, R.A., & Bronfen, M.I. A whiff of reality: Empirical evidence concerning the effects of pleasant fragrance on work-related behaviour (1994). Journal of Applied Psychology, 13, 1179–1203.
 Baron, R.A., & Kalsher, M.J. The sweet smell of safety. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (1966). 40, 1282.
 Id. at 227.
 See Kelly, H.H. “The warm–cold variable in the first impressions of person.” (1950). Journal of Personality, 18, 431–439.
 https://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/2013/10/04/disgruntled-employees-what-are-the-risks-what-are-the-remedies; Ostroff, C. (1992); https://www.riskmanagementstudio.com/the-risk-of-the-unhappy-employee.
 See Jarvis, S.S., Basic Law for Small Business (1996). 36, 62, 86, 142 (with edits to reflect scenarios in relation to this article).
 Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, Respondeat Superior, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/respondeat_superior